Montreal tenants without heat as landlord struggles to get parts during pandemic
'I just want my heat back,' says one resident whose heat has been on and off for months
Paul Bhekimpilo Tshuma has lived in the same Montreal apartment building for 14 years. He is able to get around-the-clock care there and he says the location is perfect.
But the 12-storey, 105-unit residential complex, which has a mix of subsidized housing and high-end suites, was sold a couple of years ago and things have been going downhill ever since, Tshuma said.
"With the new owner, the difference is that you make a report, it's not taken seriously. You can call 50 million times and it's never taken seriously," he said.
Climate control is his main concern. The lack of air conditioning in July was a problem and more recently, it's been the unreliable heating system, he said. The heating first broke down during a cold snap this fall, and then again for a couple weeks in January, he said.
"It's working for now," said Tshuma, who uses a wheelchair to get around. "I don't know how long it's going to last."
Tshuma said he needs an easy-to-control, independent heating and cooling system because of his disability, but that the space heater his landlord provided in the interim was not sufficient because he was unable to manage the temperature on his own.
Patrick Lefebvre also lives in the building and benefits from the 24-hour care staff provided by the local public heath agency. He said the space heater provided by the landlord while he waits for his heating system to be fully repaired is too small and inefficient
"On and off for five months," he said. "I'm getting sick, physically sick."
Cogir says it is working to fix problems
The building is located in Montreal's east end at 1951 de Maisonneuve Boulevard, not far from the Papineau Metro station in the city's Gay Village. When CBC News stopped by to interview tenants, several complained about the building's condition, saying there are problems ranging from heating to bed bugs.
The property, bought by Greyspring Apartments, an asset management firm, in December 2020, is being managed by Cogir Immobilier. A spokesperson for Cogir says it is trying to address the issues as quickly as possible.
Brigitte Pouliot said Cogir discovered a lot of regular maintenance work was left undone by the previous owner and steps are being taken to make the needed repairs.
"We have been working on the heating issues for several months now and have been proactive at providing temporary heat to all tenants affected by the problem," said Pouliot in a statement, noting each apartment has its own independent heating system.
"Unfortunately, the pandemic has created a huge shortage of mechanical parts required to fix the issue."
She said Cogir understands it is not pleasant for tenants, and "we are working as hard as we can with our supplier to resolve the issue as soon as possible. We truly hope that the tenants will understand and be patient."
When it comes to bedbugs, she said they are very hard to get rid of, and while Cogir is doing its part by treating the affected units, dealing with an infestation requires tenants to do their part as well, for example, by washing all their clothes in hot water.
The building is secure and kept clean, she said, and a new regional director has been hired who is "very proactive. Our objective is to resolve any issues as quickly as possible and to the tenants' satisfaction."
Tenants can call city for help, lawyer says
Some tenants, Lefebvre included, told CBC News that they feel the new management wants to push them out of the low-cost units, but Pouliot said that's not part of Cogir's business model and the company wants tenants to stay.
Housing lawyer Julien Delangie said there are steps tenants can take to get help in cases like this.
For example, the first step is to call 311 and ask the city for help. An inspector will visit the building, issue a warning — and potentially a fine — to the landlord.
Going to Quebec's rental board, the Tribunal administratif du logement, is also an option, he said, but even a high-priority case can take weeks or even months to be heard.
"The rules that are in place do not adequately protect the tenants from such situations, in my opinion," he said.
Lefebvre said he's working with his social worker to try and address the problem.
"I just want my heat back. That's the only thing I want. I love my apartment. I just want my heat," he said.
Mélanie Dallaire, a spokesperson for Montreal, said the city has received complaints from tenants about the heating in the building.
"The Ville-Marie borough took action without delay. Following the inspection process, the owner was notified by the inspector and had to take immediate action to correct the situation," she said.
On Tuesday, the inspector learned the heating has been fixed and the complaints stopped, she said. She said there were no complaints about pests, such as bedbugs, since September 2021, and none were observed during inspections.
with files from Jennifer Yoon